As the readers of this blog know, we have posted many times on the perils of probate litigation but have also discussed how sometimes a dispute is simply unavoidable. Not surprisingly, though, many people over the years, including those in Minnesota, have tried ways to make absolutely certain that the administration of their estate would not lead to family turmoil.
At certain points, people resorted to quiet but very strong threats. Many people would write a "no contest" clause in their wills, stating that if an heir initiated a will contest, then he or she was automatically disinherited. This raised the stakes considerably for those who wanted to challenge the terms of a will.
Unfortunately, this meant that some people with legitimate grievances had to make a painful choice of accepting an injustice or risking the loss of his or her inheritance. Many states, including Minnesota, have enacted laws, like the Uniform Probate Code, which put a limit on how far one of these "no contest" clauses can go. In Minnesota, a "no contest" clause is enforceable only when the person who filed the legal challenge had no probable cause to do so.
Although it is certainly better than nothing, this standard is relatively easy for a person challenging a will to meet, meaning that a person cannot expect to prevent probate litigation in the future simply by forbidding in his or her will. Although Minnesota has no explicit restrictions with respect to no contest clauses in trusts, residents should also not assume that they will prevent the possibility of litigation.
As this blog has reported before, there are ways, such as good communication and clearly written estate planning documents that can reduce the possibility of probate litigation. Sometimes, however, the best family can hope for is getting through a probate challenge as efficiently as possible.